Our brother Bob was number seven from a family of eleven brothers and sisters. We grew up in a small rambler in a new housing development in White Bear Lake with wide open fields across the street. It was common at that time for kids to leave home at the crack of dawn and not return until dinner time and Bob would take off on foot or on his bike every morning to explore the world. He was a regular boy, catching animals and bringing them home to observe – or in the case of snakes, bringing them home to tease us.
Our father started his own company and we moved to Rapid City South Dakota for a few years – keeping our home in WBL too. Bob was about thirteen at this time and I believe his love of birds started from exploring the Black Hills Mountain Range. I know that he also carried a small shotgun too because one time he returned home and told me he was attacked on a cliff by a large bird and he had to shoot to scare it – creating a hole in his gun case. He said he came real close to falling that day but of course that didn’t stop his love of exploring -he was back out there the very next day.
We returned back to WBL and Bob started a friendship with Bob Duerr – who was with Como Zoo. Injured animals soon found their way to our small rambler with the big fenced yard and one that I remember was an eagle, maybe a Golden Eagle with a broken wing. That eagle could outrun a rabbit and it was hard for us young kids to watch the kill but Bob said everyone needs to eat. We called that eagle Tom Dooley – after the Kingston Trio song Tom Dooley because even with a broken wing he was capable of hopping up on the fence, and would put its head on your shoulder. Bob Duerr also got Bob starring roles on the Lunch with Casey kid’s show which was very cool!
It was also at this time that Bob started bringing home the birds. We had a small room in our home, a kind of scary room we called the “back room”. This is where we stored our coats and boots and things and this is also the room Bob took over for his birds. So, you can only imagine how super scary it was to open that door to get a coat, not only knowing what would come flying out at you, but also wondering just how much bird poop it would contain!
He moved onto to Hawks and I remember several Red-Tails and also a beautiful Goshawk that he let me hold one day and it got lose. We chased that bird down for hours and finally got it back. Bob got a Volkswagen van and from then on was known as the Bird Man as he always had a bird in the back. One place he lived in was with another animal lover so there were snakes and spiders in cases everywhere and an alligator greeted you from the tub!
Bob loved flying his birds and learned everything he could about Birds of Prey – especially the Peregrine Falcon. His farm house in Hugo was always filled with fellow falconers sharing their love of birds. He worked for the Science Museum of Minnesota for a while and it was about this time that he married and they had a son Jeremy. To support his family – he tried to put his love of birds on hold and took a job with 3M but his passion was too big to control.
Around this time falcons were starting to die off and it was discovered that the pesticide DDT was to blame. DDT usage was poisoning the adult birds and causing the eggs to have very thin shells. The Peregrines were becoming extinct. So in the 1970’s DDT was banned and Bob and friends like Mark Bolton started attempting to artificial inseminate the birds. Bob would stay up many nights for months manually turning the eggs – replicating what nature would normally do. The process was successful and the first babies that were born were really something to celebrate! I do admit that I loved the look on our family’s faces when they first saw these newly hatched baby birds– not the prettiest for sure! The release birds found their way onto tall buildings and structures and luckily there was no fear of heights with Bob as he scaled buildings and cliffs to provide nest boxes and ban them for tracking purposes.
Our brother received so many National Awards but he always downplayed the recognition. Our eldest sister Pat tried to start a scrapbook and very quickly ran out of pages – Bob was everywhere. Bob was a humble man – and always quick to point out that his success were not his own. It was the contributions from so many others that made the projects successful – including the Eagle Cam. We, Bob’s family, are very happy that we were able to share our brother that we loved so much with all of you.